President Kennedy, in Profiles in Courage, said, “A man does what he must — in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures — and that is the basis of all human morality.” For a leader, doing what must be done is more than risking or sacrificing one’s life. The harder and rarer form of courage is not bravery in the face of physical danger, but valor in the face of political damage or disadvantage. It seems that many more people arewilling to risk their safety than their careers.
Today, it takes more courage to work with those you disagree with to find reasonable compromises than to sacrifice solutions for the illusion of integrity.
The challenge for all people with passionate convictions is to recognize that in a democracy, insisting that you have it your own way ultimately invites either endless confrontation, producing a political gridlock that exacerbates, rather than alleviates, problems, or a form of ideological despotism where the current and temporary majority in power impose their will on the current and temporary minority. It takes no courage to put one’s career over the obligations inherent in leadership.
Understanding that “politics is the art of the possible” is not an invitation to subordinate principles to expediency but a reflection of the moral wisdom that the highest principle in government is to make things better.
See images of courage.